For probably decades now, Richard Starkings’ Comicraft have been designing and lettering fantastic looking comics. They legitimized digital lettering and, if you ask me at least, are still the best in the business at it. A few years ago, Starkings, with the help of the phenomenally talented Ladronn, created “Hip Flask,” a hippopotamus detective in a ridiculously detailed and strange future. They worked on two miniseries, each one a benchmark of design and artistry.
Later, Starkings launched this series, “Elephantmen,” to continue exploring the universe of “Hip Flask”, but with different artists and focuses. This issue is the second part of “Worlds Collide,” a fairly ground level story about a biological attack on a Los Angeles area boardwalk. The world of Mystery City is a fairly dense one, but Starkings does a good job of orienting the new reader, with a concise "Previously On" sequence and a sharply designed character page. Ebony Hide (elephant) and Hip Flask are investigating the attack Miki, their associate. Across town, industrialist rhino Obadiah Horn has been in a car accident, leaving him vulnerable to his myriad corporate enemies.
In terms of on-the-page action, the issue is pretty slim. Not much more than what I described actually happens. There is some grim detail to it, and the characters are well done, but as a slice of story, it’s thin. Also, in terms of the pedigree of art that has come before in Hip Flask stories, Churchill’s breakdowns and Cook’s finishes are certainly not up to the same standard. This lack is accentuated by coloring that sometimes assumes that detail is still there.
Naturally, the rigors of a monthly book would not be able to be met by someone as intricate as a Ladronn, but Cook’s work on the cover of the book certainly betrays much more range and detail than we see in the book’s interiors. Starkings notes, however, that this is the first issue after the departure of usual “Elephantmen” artist Moritat, whose work is closer in nature and feel to someone like Ladronn. In future issues, perhaps this team will recapture that same feel, but they admittedly have a bit of a ways to go.
As a total package, however, “Elephantmen” is always a worthwhile package. Aside from the story itself, each issue is always a textbook in comic book design, from the covers to the lettering to the bonus material. There’s a great letters page (remember those?) and on the flip side of the book is a cover by Kevin Eastman and a Brickman comic strip.
What “Elephantmen” is exceptional at is capturing not only the captivatingly strange world Starkings has created, but the level of design quality he has always maintained in the industry.